HOWIE SEE IT: When the Heart Stops Beating

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By Atty. Howie Calleja

When the heart stops beating, the body fades away but a person’s legacy lives on.

Dr. Homobono “HB” B. Calleja was born on February 27, 1929 in a small town in Albay to Ambrosio and Severina Calleja. Ambrosio a member of the 1935 Constitutional Commission died during the war and left Severina with their 13 children. HB graduated valedictorian of his class and through his early academic achievements continued his studies in Manila as a working student. While working HB maintained his scholarship and graduated Cum Laude in BS Zoology and in Doctor of Medicine, both at the UST.

After UST, he rode a slow boat to the US and pursued the field of Cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic. A Filipino at heart, he was not lured to a lucrative practice in the US. He declined a medical position and even US citizenship. Instead, he opted to return and serve his motherland, the Philippines.

Upon his return to the Philippines, he immediately established his practice in cardiology. He met my mother Ella Alma Maceda while accompanying my Lolo Antonio Maceda for a heart check-up. My Lolo was unaware that my dad and mom had a slip of the heart upon seeing each other. They married and it bore 5 children and later on 10 grandchildren.

Dr. HB was not just a FATHER to me. He was MY MENTOR, MY INSPIRATION and MY BEST FRIEND.

As a FATHER, he showed that more than his love for his profession and his patients; his love for his family was supreme. Sundays were dedicated to our Sunday family dinners and, of course, his favorite game, golf. Rain or shine, golf must go on, as he would always say. A tradition I too have learned to live by together with my son Hugo, who picked up the game at an early age of 7.

HB never aspired to be great, but in the eyes of his 5 children and his 10 grandchildren, he will always be a great man — their “Lolo Doc” ever-present and caring. Never mind the accolades bestowed upon him; he will always be PAPA and LOLO DOC; and “Sweetie” to my mom. Surely at 92, papa lived a full life. We would miss his distinct laugh and his loud cheer as he makes the longest putts in and around the green.

As a MENTOR, I grew up seeing how important the medical field is for him and how much he cherished it. I enrolled in UST for my degree in physical therapy I distinctly recall at that time, the admission was already closed and full but doors opened just by mentioning his name. However, following his footsteps was a big shoe to fill. My professors were either colleagues or students of HB, who knew his academic achievements. They called me at every opportunity and expected a perfect answer.

He truly lived by his name Homobono (“the good man”) and HB “heartbeat” best exemplifies him as good, just and disciplined with a heart. Yes, he was strict and might even have forced one or two students out of the window. But then, this kind of discipline was what made his students excel and become the best they can be.

As an INSPIRATION, he showed how dedication and hard work can bring you at the top of your profession. He was one of the brains in the establishment of the Philippine Heart Center and was its first Director of adult cardiology. He was also a pioneer at the Makati Medical Center and, later on, was the founder of the heart institute in St. Luke’s Medical Center. He also trail blazed the field of cardiology and lead the golden age of Philippine cardiology. Often referred to as the father of echocardiography in the Philippines

Indeed, my father was many things to many persons, whose lives he touched and served. It was so inspirational to see how he dedicated his life to God, family and his profession. He was called numerous times to serve in public office but declined, saying his heart is in his profession. He asked who will take care of his patients once he goes to another field?

He believed that serving his profession with passion and dedication is the best way he can serve his fellow man. He also served in a private capacity as Governor of Kiwanis International and helped indigent heart patients. He became four times President of the Philippine Medical Association where he fought hard for the respect and dignity of the doctors and of the medical profession. Knowing that the medical profession needs more skilled professionals allied to the profession he placed his name and stamp of excellence in the HB Calleja Center Academy for Medical Skills Advancement.

HB was never selfish; nor did he make money and fame as motivations to serve. He donated his income as Director of the Philippine Heart Center. He also established a medical foundation at the St. Luke’s Medical School using his income as Director of the Heart Institute in St. Luke’s and Assistant Dean of the school. He also helped the indigent patients at the Mary Mediatrix Medical Center, where he served as Chairman of the Board since its inception.

And as a BEST FRIEND, he would always catch me whenever I fail or fall. At home, we feared our dinner time with him as it will be a rundown of things that we’ve done and the classes or grades that we had, though fearful we actually cherished those times. Our family summer vacations are always something we look forward to. Every year before my mother would bring us to the US on vacation, I remember that my father would never fail to take us around for a week two to different provinces so we see and appreciate the beauty of the Philippines. He was most especially excited whenever we had a road trip to his home province in Bicol. We would stop at every town where he had a relative or friend. Thus, the 8-10 hour journey will be more than a day sleeping overnight in one of the towns along the way.

Yes, My Father, My Mentor, My Inspiration and My Best Friend is no longer with me and my family, but death does not end a relationship, it transforms it. On July 25, 2021, my dad’s heart stopped beating but our hearts continue to the beat and in all the hearts he had touched. He will remain always in our hearts just a heartbeat away. There are no goodbyes and I am comforted to know that as Papa closed this chapter, he is welcomed in his next journey by all the angels in heaven together with Mama and my beloved Minuet.

Love you Papa! Your heartbeat remains in us forever.